Food Issue - Mike Buckner, Fielder's Flour, Junction City, Ga.

Ask Mike Buckner how long his family's been on the land he's standing on, and he'll answer, "Since the Indians."

Clad in overalls and a worn cotton shirt, Buckner is the seventh generation to live on Fielder's plantation. The trip to the farm entails an hour's drive from the nearest interstate down country, and sometimes dirt, roads.

Buckner and his family still live in the 1830s plantation house bordered in front by a grand lawn and a cotton field in back. But what brought me here was the working water mill, where Buckner still grinds corn into grits and cornmeal, and wheat into flour.

I found Buckner and his flour through an advertisement on Georgia's Department of Agriculture website. He keeps the mill going to preserve tradition, not as a serious means of income.

"You do it because you love it," he says, sitting in a cloud of flour dust created by the grinding process. "In my lifetime, we've lost at least two generations of bakers. There was a time when I'd have 30 cars parked out front here, folks bringing me their corn and wheat they grew themselves so I could grind it. But not anymore. What we make here is not microwave-friendly."

But Buckner's determined to keep his family's milling tradition alive. He grows corn, and buys corn and wheat from his neighbors, to make flour that's truly local. He believes his grown sons will continue the tradition.

"There was a time when they felt deprived because we are so far from the nearest McDonald's," he says. "But now they know where home is, they know where they want to be." Looking out over the fields that grow the corn, and the lake that powers this mill, it's easy to see why.

Buckner and his family host Plantation Days, a festival celebrating traditional Southern arts, crafts and foodways at the farm Nov. 8-9. To buy Fielder's Flour, and for information and directions, call 706-269-3630.

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